Going with the flow

in character

S Nanda kumar speaks to Southern film personality Ramesh Aravind on how he got started in the Kannada film industry, his directorial turn in the art of movie-making, and more.

Ramesh Aravind. After nearly 25 years and over 14O films in the cinema industry, the name conjures up an image of an affable, pleasing actor who seems to fit easily into the characters he plays. The real-life person is not very different — cheerful, ebullient and very approachable.

But what was a revelation is the man’s mind — it works at a frenetic pace, and one can almost hear it buzzing with ideas. It is almost as if his speech is barely able to keep pace with his lightning-quick brain, and as a result, he probably packs in more words per minute than the others. There are no pauses, no long-drawn out answers — everything is rapid fire, swift, and it is infectious.

As a result, one is drawn into a most invigorating conversation that proceeds at a dazzling pace, as we swiftly move from one topic to another, and from one idea to another. It reveals a creatively restless mind that is probably responsible for his forays into radio, television, writing film scripts and direction, in addition to acting in all the South Indian languages.

His journey of almost a quarter of a century in films seems to epitomise his great belief in “going with the flow,” and not planning any deep career moves as an actor. Ramesh attributes his freethinking to the way his parents raised him, with no pressures to either excel academically or in extra-curricular activities. “The greatest gift my parents have given me is that they just let me be. There was never any pressure on me to read or write or go play — nothing! They just let me be like a free-growing plant. So whatever I liked to do, I just did.”

Perhaps the seeds for the growth of this creative person were sown when he took part in debate competitions as a student at the Bangalore High School. His teacher had prepared him well, and had urged him to make his points forcefully. “I still remember the subject, it was ‘Good people suffer the most;’ and I just followed the one thing which she told me very religiously. So I remember pounding the podium with my fist whenever I made a point!” Ramesh won a prize for this particular debate competition. “I think that’s where it all began — when I heard the applause, and won my first cup — the expression on my mother’s face when I returned home victorious with a cup, the great feeling I had…”

Getting started

The buzz of applause was to follow him. At UVCE, where he “hated every minute of the first month in that college,” another teacher gave him the responsibility of writing and directing skits. This was to prove to be an eye-opener for Ramesh.

“After I was given this responsibility, I started loving every single moment in the same college. That was a very interesting discovery — that doing something that makes you happy could transform that same college. Nothing had changed except that I got something that I liked to do…that’s why I say we should do things we love. Otherwise, nothing will be satisfying. So I kept doing skits, and life became enjoyable!” Keeping himself occupied with things that made him happy was to land him more opportunities than he had ever dreamt of. Unwittingly, he had set an important sequence in his life rolling.

A judge of a radio programme watched one of the skits he wrote and performed. He invited him to do the same thing on radio. That in turn caught the attention of television producers, who asked him to do a TV programme. In a chain of events that he terms ‘magical,’ two very significant people, film directors Geethapriya and K Balachander, noticed the young man on the small screen. “The first film that I acted in was Geethapriya’s Mouna Geethe. But the first film to release was Sundara Swapnagalu by K Balachander. Both came my way because of the same TV programme! Balachander then took me to Tamil and Telugu films. And one film led to another,” he says, very simply, making it sound easy.

The writing of skits stood him in good stead when he turned to writing for films. When some producers approached him for a story on widow remarriage, he demurred at first, telling them that if they had such a clear message in mind, they could perhaps be well served by making a documentary on the subject. But the producers persisted, and Ramesh suggested an idea that turned into Hoomale, which was directed by Nagathihalli Chandrashekar, and received the National Award for Best Regional Film.

The story revolved around terrorism, and was set in the northeast. Ramesh also acted in the same film. “The whole idea was written down by me on a single sheet of paper — and then it went on growing!” Amrithadhare, which followed, was co-scripted with director Nagathihalli Chandrashekar, and went on to become a hit. He then went to write Accident and Nam Anna Bond, both of which he directed.

But the debut as a director came with Rama Bhama Shama, a remake of the Tamil super hit, Sathy Leelavathy. “My thinking was that of a director even when I was acting. I would think of what the scene could do for the film rather than what it could do for me. Kamal Hasan noticed this first and told me that I should direct films.”

Working under directors like K Balachander probably also helped free his mind from thinking along fixed, mechanical lines. They encouraged impromptu ideas and improvisations during the shooting of their films. “In fact, Balachander always responded to my impromptu ideas with something that took them even further,” he exclaims with admiration.

He credits the people he initially worked with when he entered films for fashioning his thinking about cinema. “I worked with stalwarts like K Balachander, Balu Mahendra, Sunil Kumar Desai and others. Cinema became totally passion-driven for me because of these people. It was not about autographs and cutouts — these were just by-products. You won’t believe it, but I can work for 20-21 hours a day with complete focus every minute when I am directing. That is because these people would do it that way, without getting distracted even for a second. Like them, it’s because I love the job.”

His directorial debut with Rama Bhama Shama was followed up with Satyavan Savitri, Accident, Venkata in Sankata, and Nam Anna Bond. One is not surprised when he confesses that he is a workaholic. “I need work. I cannot sit idle on a sofa. I just cannot. I have to keep doing something. My work is my relaxation. I have to keep my mind active. I have also tried to do nothing. But I just cannot. Basically, I think I am a workaholic! I derive a lot of pleasure from work. That’s what keeps me going. As I grow older, I find that every minute is very long! For me, one minute is a hell of a lot of time, 15 minutes is amazing, 24 hours is fantastic, I can do a hundred things; if I am focused, I can even finish writing a film. I feel one can do so much in one day,” he says enthusiastically. As we talk about future dreams, he cuts in with his fascination for musicals. “I want to produce and direct a Broadway musical like ‘Moulin Rouge’ right here in India!” he declares passionately.
He has already started work on his fifth directorial venture, a Kannada film starring Upendra, called Super Kick. The producer of the film, K Manju, had also made the hugely successful Rama Bhama Shama with Ramesh as the director. Ramesh is also slated to work in the film as an actor.  “It should be a really interesting combination with Upendra,” he says with bright expectations in his eyes. Even as he is talking about it, he also announces that he will also be working in another film as an actor. With this bubbling person, one thing is for sure — there will never be a dull moment.

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